Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Housing Mismatch

Cities used to be built so people could work close to where they live.  Now we have mismatched cities where workers can't find jobs, and other places where jobs can't find workers.  What we';re seeing is the free market flopping around like a loose firehose because nobody's controlling it to do what we actually need.

We have  solutions for this already.  We just aren't using them.  Live-work spaces are ideal for offices (such as lawyers) or small businesses (such as shops) at street level with apartments above them.  Another great approach is when you build a huge place to work -- like a business park or a hospital -- you put in an apartment complex, row houses, and other places for those workers to live.  Do you want people trying to flounder clear across the city through a foot of snow for their hospital job?  Not really.  But if they're just across the street, the same plow they use to clear the parking lot can also clear a path for everyone to walk over to work.  Put a bike garage and locker room in the basement, and you greatly expand the range of convenient travel.

The same principles apply in reconstructing neighborhoods.  Say you've got what used to be a warehouse district and now you don't need warehouses there.  Turn some of those into offices, art galleries, dance studios, stores, restaurants, etc.  Turn some of them into apartments.  Pay attention to the ratio of space for work, recreation, and residence.  Make sure the residences you build will incorporate a range of incomes typical of your town's balance.  If you have lots of well-off folks you'll want plenty of condos.  If most of your folks are poor, you'll want modest apartments that locals can actually afford.

Does someone want to build a giant business park with 3,000 office jobs?  Great, that's a good boost to the local economy. But where are those people going to live?  Where's the nearest place that office workers currently live?  If you expect to attract new residents, are there homes they can move into?  If those answers are bad, don't build that business park unless you also  include enough new housing for its staff.  Alternatively, if there's a big concentration of workers but nowhere nearby to build, you can buy some shuttlebuses and just drive your workers back and forth every day. It's been done and it works, as long as it's not too far.

You also have to make sure people can afford to work the jobs you create.  Our factory outlet mall here is dying because 1) they built it in a town with not enough spare workers to staff it, and 2) none of the jobs pay enough that people can afford to drive to them from anywhere else.  In most areas, minimum wage and other low-paying jobs are limited to people within the immediate area. That means walking, biking, a few minutes' drive, or public transportation, because you're not paying them enough to cover much gas.  
Tags: economics, networking
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